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This start-up added robots to help battle Amazon and Costco, but didn't have to cut any jobs

Boxed CEO Chieh Huang says the company's biggest challenge in its early days was not having enough manpower.

"When we used to have those deluge of orders, we used to empty the entire corporate office, get a bus, and bring them here to the fulfillment center," Huang says.

Boxed packages and ships bulky items to customers directly from its warehouses, and is taking on the likes of Amazon and Costco.

The company started in 2013, in Chieh's parents' garage. Since then, it's expanded to four fulfillment centers and has turned to automation to help it keep up with demand. Boxed just finished fully automating its headquarters in Union, New Jersey, and saw its picking productivity increase by 600 to 700 percent.

Surprisingly, the company was able to keep its entire workforce thanks to retraining.

A Boxed employee uses a robot to pick items for several orders.
A Boxed employee uses a robot to pick items for several orders.

"I still need my crew," says Rick Zumpano, vice president of distribution at Boxed. "They just spend more time picking and less time walking. I've sort of taken the shovel out of their hand, and given them an end loader."

The system runs on a multi-story mezzanine with nearly two miles of conveyer belts. A lot of the software was built in-house, which Huang says saved Boxed a good chunk of change. A robot, called the iBOT, brings the items that need to be picked directly to workers, allowing them to package items for several shipments at a time.

Huang says automation will allow him to create more jobs as efficiency increases and Boxed is able to open more fulfillment centers.